Monday, January 09, 2006

Thumbelina is nothing more than sexist drivel

When I was visiting some relatives in Brisbane, I browsed through some of the young cousins’ books. Thumbelina (1835, Hans Christian Andersen) caught my eye, because I do not remember reading it.

After reading it, I found the plot to be disturbingly sexist. (Synopsis from Wikipedia below)

The story presents the protagonist (Thumbelina) as an object of desire, the point of desire being her beauty, and only her beauty.

She was kidnapped to be a bride by a frog, then imprisoned, then kidnapped by a mayfly. The female mayflies didn’t think much of her beauty, and convinced the male mayfly kidnapper to abandon her in the winter cold. A mouse found her and cared for her, and having saved her life, the mouse then ‘owned’ her. The mouse gave her away to be the bride of a mole. The mole himself did not like the flowers above ground, and would confine her below ground.

By a stroke of luck, Thumbelina was rescued and met a fairy prince, who was enchanted by her beauty. He asked her to marry him, and then renamed her for he thought the name Thumbelina was not fit for a beautiful girl as her.

The protagonist of the story is not much of a character, but more like an inanimate satisfier of male sensual desires. She has her own opinion, but only very slightly. And she never expresses her views, instead letting the environment sweep her to and fro, at the mercy of kidnappers and the dominating mole.

Right up to the happy ending, she played no role in deciding her fate; Thumbelina was never sentient.


Once, a woman grew a barleycorn in her garden, so beautiful that when she kissed the petals of the bloom, it burst into a flower and a tiny but beautiful girl emerged. The woman named her Thumbelina, as she was no bigger than the woman's thumb.

The girl's beauty soon attracted the attention of a frog. She believed Thumbelina would make a good bride for her son, so she kidnapped the girl in the middle of the night, and delivered her to her son. The son was immediately enchanted by Thumbelina's beauty, and left her on a lily pad. However, Thumbelina managed to find help. Fish gnawed away the root of the lily pad, and a butterfly offered to pull her to safety with one of Thumbelina's ribbons as a harness. Before she could be freed however, a mayfly grabbed Thumbelina off the lily and took her away, leaving the butterfly to die as he was too fragile to break free of the ribbon.

The mayfly, who was also enchanted by Thumbelina, brought her back to his family, but the female mayflies declared she was ugly, and so they abandoned her as a result. Starving in the cold of winter, the little girl was then found by a field mouse, who took care of her. Because the mouse believed that she was indebted to him, the girl soon found herself engaged to a mole. The wedding would take place in spring, once the last snow thawed.

Unhappy that she must marry the mole, Thumbelina went to the see the flowers one last time, knowing the mole disliked the beauty of the upper world and would confine her to the ground below. A bird flew by and saw Thumbelina's distress, so he offered to take her away to a better world.

She agreed and the bird took her far away to a field of flowers, where he told her to choose a flower to claim as her own. Thumbelina found a flower, but discovered another person present, the prince of fairies. Enchanted by her beauty, he asked to marry her, and the little girl agreed. She was renamed Maha by the prince (as the name Thumbelina is not beautiful enough for a girl like her) and given a pair of wings so she may fly with her new husband.

Source: Wikipedia
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